Arbitration, compromise and truth.
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
When two parties disagree, they may seek a way out of the deadlock. One option is to enlist the help of a third party to facilitate finding a solution. Alternatively, the parties could choose to negotiate directly with each other, utilizing the same tools that a third party may have employed.
This post will focus on only two out of the many strategies that third-party arbitrators have at their disposal. One approach is to take on the role of a subjective non-partisan, while the other approach seeks objectivity and the use of logical reasoning. The discussion should apply equally to cases of personal interest, as well as abstract intellectual differences of opinion.
The subjective approach assumes that our ability to access truth is very limited, if such a thing exists. In this approach, all values are subjective, and each side is equally likely or unlikely to have any objective claim. The arbitrator’s problem is that each side feels confident that they are right. The third party must ensure that each side understands that the arbitration is not partisan. A partisan approach describes people who automatically align all their opinions according to tribal affiliations, despite the fact that there are a wide array of subjects to which the team is committed. The arbitrator must convince both sides that they are not parties to this partisan division.
The arbitration in this case aims to find a middle ground or “split the difference”. If both parties receive some of what they were after and if neither party achieves a complete victory, there is a possibility that both sides will agree to the settlement.
One possible reason for the failure of this approach is that it incentivizes both parties to take a more extreme position at the outset, knowing that the eventual “compromise” will be more aligned with their true desires or beliefs.
The objective approach to arbitration, in contrast, operates under the assumption that both sides see themselves as following the laws of logic and reason. Often, each side believes that it is the other side that is lacking in this area, and so both sides claim to value reason. In some cases the aim of this approach may not be to satisfy the two sides in the dispute, it is instead focused on persuading outside observers that the “middle way” is the best course of action. The objective arbitration process utilizes a variety of tools to reach this goal.
Firstly, instead of relying on sharp black-and-white distinctions, it can be helpful to view the matter as a spectrum of possibilities where each side of the distinction represents just one extreme. In this way, the compromise between the two parties can be reached by acknowledging that the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
Secondly, it’s possible that the two parties are each committed to different values and are willfully ignoring the other’s values. For instance, one side may prioritize “family” while the other focuses solely on “rights”. In this case, the role of arbitration is to acknowledge the existence of both values and highlight that navigating values often involves direct conflict between competing values and that compromise is typically the only way to live with such conflicts.
Sometimes, the problem with this approach is that the crux of the disagreement lies in a single assumption or a matter of fact. Both parties acknowledge that if this assumption or fact is true, then one side is entirely correct, while if it is false, that same side is entirely incorrect. In such a situation, a compromise that splits the difference would actually contradict the one point that both sides agree upon.
In many cases it is best to find the middle ground, but not in every case.